Selarang Barracks

Singapore Infopedia

by Chia, Joshua Yeong Jia


Selarang Barracks was built between 1936 and 1938 to house an infantry battalion. During the Japanese Occupation (1942–45), it was used by the Japanese Imperial Army to hold Australian and British prisoners-of-war (POWs). It is also the site of the infamous Selarang Barracks Square Incident during the war, in which some 15,000 Allied soldiers were interned at Selarang Barracks under very poor living conditions until they signed a pledge of non-escape. Today, the Selarang Barracks is a restricted military area belonging to the Singapore Armed Forces. Except for the officers’ mess and the headquarters, most of the original British buildings have been demolished.


Constructed between 1936 and 1938 to house an infantry battalion, Selarang Barracks consisted of seven blocks built around a square. It was part of a larger British military base in Changi. Its first occupants were soldiers from the 2nd Gordon Highlanders Battalion. During the Japanese Occupation, the Imperial Japanese Army used the premises to house Australian and British POWs.1

Selarang Barracks Square Incident
In 1942, four POWs – Corporal Rodney Breavington and Private Victor Gale from the Australian Imperial Force, Private Harold Waters from the East Surrey Regiment and Private Eric Fletcher from the Royal Army – attempted an escape from the Japanese, but were recaptured.2 To prevent such future attempts, the Japanese wanted all POWs to sign a pledge of non-escape, in contravention of the Geneva Convention, which gave POWs the right to escape. The prisoners refused to sign the pledge. To coerce them into signing, the Japanese crammed some 15,000 men, including the British POWs from the Changi camp, into Selarang Barracks, which was originally intended for 800 to 1,200 men.3

The barracks buildings became overcrowded and many had to live in makeshift tents in the square. The Japanese also cut off the water supply to the toilets, leaving the prisoners with no toilet facilities. The prisoners resorted to digging trenches in the parade grounds as latrines.4 Despite the heat, there were only two working taps with water, and each prisoner was limited to one quart of water (approximately 0.95 L) for consumption and washing every day.5

Conditions in the barracks continued to worsen with the lack of food, water and proper hygiene. The number of dysentery and diphtheria cases rose. The Japanese intensified their pressure with threats of cutting off the water supply completely, halving rations, and moving the Robert Barracks Hospital to the Selarang Barracks Square. The latter became the tipping point, as the move would endanger the lives of gravely ill patients and lead to the spread of diseases. To prevent the further loss of lives, Colonel E. B. Holmes ordered the POWs to sign the documents of non-escape. This was done on 5 September 1942 and many of the prisoners signed under false names – Ned Kelly, a legendary Australian outlaw, was a popular choice. All the prisoners were returned to their original barracks after that.6

On 2 September 1942, the Japanese brought Holmes and other senior Allied officers to the Beting Kusah anti-aircraft practice ground to witness the execution of the four POWs who had attempted to escape. The four men were made to line up, three paces apart, with their backs facing the sea at Changi Beach. The POWs declined offers to be blindfolded. The firing squad, consisting of three Sikhs and an Indian officer, stood some 10 to 15 yards away. Corporal Breavington made a plea to the Japanese officers to execute him alone, but was rejected. After an exchange of salutes between the POWs and their senior officers, the firing squad opened fire. The shots wounded the four but did not kill them. Breavington asked to be finished off and more rounds of bullets were fired at the men.7 The remains of the soldiers were buried at the Kranji War Memorial.8 In remembrance of Breavington’s act of courage, the Breavington Award for policing excellence is presented annually in Australia.9

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Lieutenant General Shimpei Fukuei (also spelt as Fukuye) was the first to be tried for war crimes. He was found guilty for ordering the execution of the four POWs. On 7 April 1946, he was executed by shooting, at the same spot where the four POWs died.10

After the war, the barracks became home to the Australian Army units of ANZUK, a tripartite force formed by Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom to defend the Asia-Pacific region. ANZUK was disbanded in 1974.11 The premises has housed the 9th Division of the Singapore Armed Forces since March 1984.12

In 1991, Selarang Camp was redeveloped at a cost of S$50 million. With the exception of the officers’ mess and the headquarters, most of the old British buildings were demolished to make way for a new self-contained complex.13


Joshua Chia Yeong Jia

1. Saravanan Munusamy, “History within Our Camps: Selarang Camp,” Army News, no. 239 (2016): 12–13.
2. Lee Geok Boi, The Syonan Years: Singapore under Japanese Rule 1942–1945 (Singapore: National Archives of Singapore; Epigram, 2005), 122. (Call no. RSING q940.53957 LEE-[WAR]); “The Last Post Ceremony Commemorating the Service of (VX63100) Corporal Rodney Edward Breavington, Base Ordnance Workshops Malaya AAOC, Second World War,” Australian War Memorial, accessed 31 January 2017.
3. Yap Siang Yong, et al., Fortress Singapore: The Battlefield Guide (Singapore: Times Editions, 2004), 98. (Call no. RSING 959.5703 FOR-[HIS])
4. David Nelson, The Story of Changi Singapore (Singapore: Changi Museum Pte Ltd, 2001), 42. (Call no. RSING 940.547252 NEL-[WAR])
5. Yap, Fortress Singapore, 98.
6. Robin Paul Whittick Havers, Reassessing the Japanese Prisoner of War Experience: The Changi POW Camp, Singapore, 1942–5 (London: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003), 73–74, 790. (Call no. RSING 940.547252 HAV-[WAR])
7. Yap, Fortress Singapore, 98; “POWs Shot to Compel Others Sign Parole,” Straits Times, 26 February 1946, 3. (From NewspaperSG)
8. Lee, Syonan Years, 122.
9. “National Police Remembrance Day,” Parliament of Australia, accessed 31 January 2017.
10. S. Pugalenthi, Singapore Landmarks: Monuments, Memorials, Statues & Historic Sites (Singapore: VJ Times International, 1999), 280. (Call no. RSING 959.57 PUG-[HIS])
11. Munusamy, “History within Our Camps,” 12–13.
12. “9th Division/Infantry: History,” Ministry of Defence, accessed 31 January 2017.
13. “Move to Selarang ‘Will Boost Links within Unit’,” Straits Times, 25 May 1991, 3. (From NewspaperSG)

Further resources
Constance Mary Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 158, 187–88, 193, 207. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS])

Malcom H. Murfett, et al., Between Two Oceans: A Military History of Singapore from First Settlement to Final British Withdrawal (Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic, 2004), 262–63. (Call no. RSING 355.0095957 BET)

Mamoru Shinozaki, Syonan, My Story: The Japanese Occupation of Singapore (Singapore: Times Books International, 1992), 109. (Call no. RSING 959.57023 SHI-[HIS])

Tan Beng Luan and Irene Quah, The Japanese Occupation 1942–1945: A Pictorial Record of Singapore during the War (Singapore: Times Editions, 1996), 53. (Call no. RSING q940.5425 TAN-[WAR])

Tommy Koh, et al. eds., Singapore: The Encyclopedia (Singapore: Editions Didier Millet; National Heritage Board, 2006), 463. (Call no. RSING 959.57003 SIN-[HIS])

The information in this article is valid as at 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic. 


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.

More to Explore

1915 Singapore Mutiny


In the midst of World War I, on 15 February 1915, the Right Wing (Rajput) of the 5th Light Infantry (Indian Army) which was stationed in Singapore, revolted, killing more than 40 British officers, British residents and local civilians. The mutiny was originally referred to as the Mutiny of the...

Tan Chong Tee


Tan Chong Tee, alias Lim Shu and Tan Tien Soong (b. 15 October 1916, Singapore–d. 24 November 2012, Singapore), was a member of the World War II underground resistance movement known as Force 136. He was captured and tortured by the Japanese, and imprisoned with other members of Force 136,...

Nurses Day


Nurses Day was originally celebrated as Nurses Week from 1965 before becoming Nurses Day in the 1980s. Nurses Day is a day set aside to honour and recognise the contribution of nurses to Singapore. It is usually marked with celebrations for nurses, which include graduation ceremonies, blood donation drives, concerts,...

First air raid on Singapore


The first air raid on Singapore was carried out by 17 Japanese planes from the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Force, launched from Japanese-occupied Saigon (now known as Ho Chi Minh City) in Vietnam. It took place shortly after 4 am on 8 December 1941, and left 61 dead and...

Mount Alvernia Hospital


Opened in 1961, Mount Alvernia Hospital is a non-profit private hospital in Singapore. It was founded by the Franciscan Missionaries of Divine Motherhood to provide healthcare services based on Christian values and Catholic teachings. Located at 820 Thomson Road, the complex encompasses a hospital, a 24-hour clinic, health screening centre,...

Dollah Kassim


Dollah Kassim (b. 13 March 1949, Singapore–d. 15 October 2010, Singapore) was a footballer who represented Singapore between 1968 and 1981. A centre-forward, he was nicknamed the “gelek king” (gelek is a Malay word for a bending movement) for his languid, graceful style of play and deceptive dribbling. His fame...

Tan Howe Liang


Tan Howe Liang (b. 5 May 1933, Swatow, Guangdong, China – ) holds the distinction of being Singapore’s first Olympic medallist, having won a silver in the lightweight category for weightlifting during the 1960 Rome Olympics. Until the Singapore women’s table tennis team won silver in 2008, Tan was the...

Choo Seng Quee


Choo Seng Quee (b. 1 December 1914 – d. 30 June 1983, Singapore) was a former coach of the national football teams of Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Popularly known as Uncle Choo, he greatly influenced the development of football in these countries from the late 1940s to the 1980s. Well-known...

The Singapore Scout Association (SSA)


The Singapore Scout Association (SSA) was originally established as the Boy Scouts Association of Singapore on 2 July 1910, two years after the launch of the Scout Movement in Great Britain by Robert Baden-Powell. The idea of starting a local branch of the movement was first championed by Percy Gold,...

Raffles Medical Group


Established in 1976, Raffles Medical Group is one of Singapore’s largest private integrated healthcare providers. It operates a network of medical and dental facilities throughout the island, and provides specialised medical services such as evacuation and repatriation. In addition, the group is a shareholder Raffles Hospital and manufactures its own...